Pressing on Press Releases
Unreleased: As I’ve mentioned before, some Maine media outlets aren’t particularly careful when it comes to publishing press releases. They just slap handouts online, in print or on the air, verbatim or with minimal rewriting – and with nothing to warn readers, viewers or listeners that what they’re being fed as news is, in fact, a version of the story created by one of its participants.
This seems to happen most often with material from police and public safety agencies. Which is considered OK, I guess, because everyone knows the cops would never try to spin their coverage or omit crucial information or otherwise put up smokescreens. They’re every bit as trustworthy as journalists.
Which is sort of scary.
The result is something that looks like a news story, but isn’t.
These bits of pseudo-journalism are showing up with increasing frequency on the breaking news section of Web sites. For instance, the normally reliable Ellsworth American had one last week, after a fire at a topless coffee shop in Vassalboro was ruled an arson. The paper’s Web site (where the story is no longer posted) carried a piece that was little more than a quick edit of a press release from the state Department of Public Safety. It included no original reporting, although somebody put an Ellsworth byline on it, even though neither the department nor the coffee shop was located anywhere near Ellsworth.
Let me be clear. There’s nothing unethical about using information from releases, so long as it’s clearly attributed to the source. The Village Soup Web site (disclosure: my weekly political column runs in the Village Soup papers) carried much the same information as the Ellsworth American, but began its posting (which also doesn’t seem to be available any longer) with the words, “According to a press release from Maine Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland.”
Now, how hard was that?
Released: According to a posting on the North East Radio Watch site, WGME-TV in Portland is losing its general manager. Terry Cole will move to Pensacola, Fla., where he’ll oversee operations at WEAR-TV and WFGX-TV. Both stations are owned by Sinclair Broadcasting, which also owns WGME.
Replaced: The Journal Tribune in Biddeford has partially filled the shoes of departed editor/publisher Drew McMullin.
McMullin’s former assistant, Nick Cowenhoven, has assumed his ex-boss’s editorial duties. The paper still hasn’t named a new publisher, but Cowenhoven said the Sample-owned company is “considering its options.”
Revolutionary: A few weeks ago, the Forecaster weekly newspapers redesigned their Web site to make it, well … different, I guess.
I’m no expert, but it didn’t seem significantly improved, although it had more visuals, and it finally eliminated all references to the Forecaster’s long-defunct Lewiston-Auburn edition.
Apparently, I have no appreciation for innovation.
According to a news release from Celsius Publishing, this new setup is nothing short of “revolutionary.”
Celsius is a Maine-based company that appears to be affiliated with the Forecaster’s parent company, Sun Media Group, which publishes the Lewiston Sun Journal and numerous weekly papers.
According to a Celsius news release, its Web design creates “a universal content community” that results in “a consolidated solution for content management without limit or barrier.”
That’s nice. I guess.
Ridicularity: Portland cartoonist Corey Pandolph (disclosure: Yes, he’s a friend of mine, so sue me), author and illustrator of the nationally syndicated daily comic strip “Elderberries,” has a new Web-only comic coming on June 15 called “Greene With Envy.”
I know, he’s a Yankees fan. I have low standards for friends.
Rescind this: The saga of Joel Elliott, the reporter for the Morning Sentinel who was fired in January under questionable circumstances, continues. According to pseudonymous blogger Thomas Cushing Munjoy, Elliott, unhappy with how the Portland Newspaper Guild is handling his grievance (mostly by wishing fervently that it would go away), has filed a formal complaint with the National Labor Relations Board. Shortly after Munjoy posted that information on his blog, Elliott was contacted by the guild with an offer from the Blethen Maine Newspapers, owners of the Sentinel for a couple more days, to settle the matter for a little over $5,250 (the equivalent of seven weeks pay). According to Munjoy, under the terms of the proposed deal, Elliott would have to drop all his claims against the company, and Blethen would not have to admit it did anything wrong.
Elliott told Munjoy the only way he’d agree to that is if the company rescinded his termination. Otherwise, it’s on to the NLRB. Stay tuned.
Wrong range: On June 8, the Associated Press got a little disassociated from local geography when it put out a re-write of a Lewiston Sun Journal story about two Mainers who had climbed 14 of the state’s highest mountains in just four days.
According to the AP version, “They finished their effort about a week ago by hiking Maine's tallest peak, Mount Everest, which was blanketed in 4 inches of fresh snow.”
Not to mention all the hair because it’s yeti shedding season.
A correction was sent a few minutes later, correctly identifying the peak in question as Mount Katahdin.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.